Those who think that they are surfing online without fear far away should now be careful in their browsing pattern as the Indian government is spying on internet users, said a report by the Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC) titled "India’s Surveillance State at the Internet Governance Forum", which is in Istanbul, Turkey.
The report said the Indian government is monitoring it through its own Internet systems and is collecting the information. It has done so under law called Lawful Interception and Monitoring systems to keep tab on people who are on Internet, but mostly to track those who are related to plotting terrorist activities as India is prime in al-Qaeda list.
With more than 300 million internet users, the surveillance also has to increase, said R.S. Sharma, secretary, Department of Electronics & Information Technology (DeiTY), Government of India. “Indians without access to internet form 25% of the people in the world left out of the digital world. So it was the priority of GoI to attend sessions where we could pick up ideas on how to bridge this gap. By December 2016 we aim to bring broadband connectivity to all panchayats," he said.
In fact, several Lawful Interception and Monitoring (LIM) systems are installed in India’s communication networks to help officials collect users’ communications data and meta-data and also to analyse it.
Here are some major points in the report pointed out by the SFLC:
As many as 26 companies, including foreign firms, have placed bids on a tender floated for Internet monitoring systems for supplying surveillance equipment in India. Several of these companies have incidentally been included in the list disclosed as part of the Spy Files project of Wikileaks.
An average more than a lakh (100,000) of telephone interception orders are issued by the Central government every year. If the state government orders are added to this, it should be much higher, may be in millions.
State surveillance of citizens’ private communications is allowed under the British-period Indian Telegraph Act and the latest Information Technology Act, which entails law enforcement agencies to closely monitor phone calls, texts, e-mails and general Internet activity. They establish an opaque surveillance regime and make no provisions for independent oversight of the surveillance process, said SFLC.
In addition to Lawful Interception and Monitoring (LIM) systems, capability-enhancing technologies and databases such as the Central Monitoring System (CMS), Network Traffic Analysis (NETRA) and National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) are also afoot and the government has sought outsourcing such surveillance initiatives to private or third parties. Some of them even infect the devices with virus so they can gain access to information stored in their systems.
SFLC quoted an unidentified source to report that NETRA storage servers will be installed at more than 1,000 locations across India, each with a storage capacity of 300 GB totalling to 300 TB of storage in the first phase.
Under Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 all Internet Service Providers or Internet Cafes should help the government agencies to intercept any communication and a failure to comply with it may result in imprisonment for upto 7 years and fines.
The Controller of Certifying Authorities uses Section 28 of the IT Act to collect user data from technology companies and an RTI request revealed that they have made 73 requests under this provision in 2011.
Many Indian IT laws, policies and practices are not in tune with international human rights, said the report of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights released on June 30, 2014. With Right to Privacy compromised, the State surveillance can only be higher if global terrorist outfits like al-Qaeda throw up threats often to target India.